Mike Slinn

Connoisseur of Technology

IBM Personality Insights

2018-08-29 / All Blog posts

empathyworks.ai describes the original research I've done on modeling personality and behavior of individuals and groups since 2007. For me, the work has been both therapeutic and insightful, and I now have a better basis for understanding myself and others as a result.

Recently an IBMer pointed me to IBM Personality Insights, and I eagerly visited the site. The scientific basis for the results is interesting. I am greatly interested in the analysis that IBM Personality Insights provided of the blog posting I wrote on my birthday last year. I also submitted a short humorous posting I wrote ten years ago for analysis.

A Modern Horoscope?

I think the results from IBM Personality Insights are about as accurate as a horoscope. Abhishek Srivastava's Quora posting of November 18, 2016 expresses this well.

I think most answers here have missed the point of IBM Watson’s personality insight service. It is a NLP based approach to to find scores of individuals on some of the well established scales in psychology like Big 5, Basic Humans Values and Needs. So when those numbers are arrived using those standard questionnaires or through text analysis done by Watson, they are pretty close statistically. In that respect Watson is definitely very accurate. As far as interpretation of those results are concerned, that’s beyond the purview of current scope of Watson and rather is a question for psychologist. If I was a team member at IBM Watson, I would have actually not given the interpretation and would rather just give the scores and let people interpret them.

Furthermore, until a peer review of IBM Personality Insights concludes that the results are well founded, I would not be comfortable using the technology for decision making.

To be fair, a recent examination of nearly 350 published psychological experiments found that 42% failed to show that they were based on a valid foundation of empirical evidence, suggesting that a wide swath of psychological science is based on an untested foundation. With that in mind, let's see what this modern horoscope serves up!

High Level Results

Results were fairly consistent between the two blog postings. When I concatenated the two posts the longer post dominated. Differences between the two personality assessments are shown this way. My comments are shown this way.

Birthday Posting Summary Humorous Posting Summary
The results in json format are here. The results in json format are here.
You are shrewd and skeptical. You are shrewd, inner-directed and guarded.
You are philosophical: you are open to and intrigued by new ideas and love to explore them. You are independent: you have a strong desire to have time to yourself. And you are authority-challenging: you prefer to challenge authority and traditional values to help bring about positive changes. You are philosophical: you are open to and intrigued by new ideas and love to explore them. You are independent: you have a strong desire to have time to yourself. And you are solemn: you are generally serious and do not joke much. I guess IBM did not like my humour!
Your choices are driven by a desire for discovery often true. Your choices are driven by a desire for organization often true.
You are relatively unconcerned with both tradition and taking pleasure in life. You care more about making your own path than following what others have done. And you prefer activities with a purpose greater than just personal enjoyment. You are relatively unconcerned with both achieving success and taking pleasure in life. You prefer activities with a purpose greater than just personal enjoyment. And you make decisions with little regard for how they show off your talents.

An old friend, who I've known since university, is a clinical psychologist with a PhD and works as a doctor in a mental hospital. His comments on the results were:

I think that some aspects of the profile are pretty accurate; however, other aspects such as calling you shrewd and skeptical are a bit evaluate: I would instead say intelligent and and not naive. The openness results would seem pretty accurate.

I think you're probably a bit more extraverted than this analysis suggests.

The ‘emotional range’ factor of the Big 5 is typically labeled Neuroticism. I kind of think of Agreeableness as a compliance/ conformity dimension, and I if I am not mistaken, it is not unusual for (male) entrepreneurs to score low on that dimension.

But Wait, There's More!

IBM's Personality Insights provides additional information that explains the above in more detail:

Birthday Posting Summary Humorous Posting Summary
You are likely to:
  • like musical movies
    Oops, that was way off!
  • be sensitive to ownership cost when buying automobiles
  • have experience playing music
    True: I am a multi-instrumentalist
You are likely to:
  • like historical movies
  • be sensitive to ownership cost when buying automobiles
  • have experience playing music
You are unlikely to:
  • be influenced by social media during product purchases The truth is more complex
  • prefer style when buying clothes True, and to compensate I try to shop for clothes with carefully selected friends
  • like country music Spot on!

You are unlikely to:

  • be influenced by social media during product purchases

  • prefer style when buying clothes

  • be influenced by brand name when making product purchases

I think that the above was a pretty good assessment of me, and the detailed breakdowns which follow are interesting. Before you look at that, however, you should know that the Big 5 Personality Model defines the 5 traits using words with meanings that might seem different from the meanings you might expect. The 5 traits are: openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and emotional range.

Personality, Needs and Values

Each of the 5 traits are broken down into various aspects. For example, openness consists of adventurousness, artistic interests, emotionality, imagination, intellect, and authority-challenging. Again, these terms are defined in specific ways that might be different than the definitions that you might expect.

Birthday Posting Summary Humorous Posting Summary

1724 words; decent analysis.

516 words; we need a minimum of 600, preferably 1,200 or more, to compute statistically significant estimates.

Detailed Breakdown

Here is my detailed breakdown, shown as sunburst charts:

Birthday Posting Summary Humorous Posting Summary

The sunburst charts paint me as an unusual person. If this personality assessment is accurate, I am rather complex. However, further reading suggests that people with very high openness scores defy most structured evaluations, and I score in the 99th percentile for openness.

Birthday Posting Summary Humorous Posting Summary
Openness to experience: high (99th percentile). This means I have an unusually high fluid intelligence (I am able to learn complex concepts and tasks very quickly), and I am likely to be eccentric.
I believe this to be true.
Openness to experience: high (99th percentile) – Same
Extraversion: Low (15th percentile) – Cold, withdrawn, unfriendly. That feels harsh. Extraversion: Even lower (6th percentile). Yikes!
Agreeableness: Low (5th percentile) – Independant, tough, dominant, possibly manipulative. Yes, I make up my own mind and I follow what I believe to be the appropriate course, regardless of what others might say or do.
Additionally, I have very strong sympathy (97th percentile) and I am rather uncompromising (82nd percentile), strongly cooperative (82nd percentile) with strong altruism (87th percentile).
Perhaps that means that I am a crusty individual with a warm heart.
According to the breakdown, I am quite trusting (82nd percentile), yet I am also very cautious (90th percentile), so for me I go with "trust but verify".
Agreeableness: Even lower (0th percentile). Yikes!
Emotional range: average (> 59th percentile). IBM defines this as "the extent to which a person's emotions are sensitive to the individual's environment" Emotional range: very high (> 91st percentile). When coupled with low agreeableness, IBM predicts: temperamental, irritable, quarrelsome, impatient, grumpy. When coupled with low conscientiousness, IBM predicts: compulsive, nosy, self-indulgent, forgetful, impulsive. When coupled with low extraversion, IBM predicts: guarded, fretful, insecure, pessimistic, secretive. When coupled with high openness, IBM predicts: excitable, passionate, sensual. Hmm, quarrelsome, impatient, compulsive, self-indulgent, forgetful, insecure, pessimistic and yet passionate and sensual. What a combination!
Low Conservation (1st percentile)This is called Hedonism in the other graph. Hedonism: very low (1st percentile) – This is called Conservation in the other graph. Within this category I scored low self-enhancement, low Hedonism, low Openness to change and low conservation.
Low Harmony (5th percentile)This is called Closeness in the other graph. Closeness: low (1th percentile) – This is called Harmony in the other graph. Within this category I scored low Excitement, Harmony, Ideal, Libery, Love, Self-expression and Stability. I also scored high Curiosity (78th percentile) and high Structure (88th percentile). Sounds like I'm pretty much a curious robot.

These traits, if true, would make me a good expert witness, and a good evaluator for technical due diligence. This might also explain my propensity for constantly inventing new things.

According to these results, I also registered some extreme needs and values. Because the results of analysing both documents were almost the same I show them together.

First, let's look at the results that I identify with:

Both articles
An extremely liberal mindset (conservation: 1st percentile)
Virtually no interest in comfort (hedonism: 2nd percentile)
Almost no interest in social power, authority, wealth, success, capability, etc. (self-enhancement: 4th percentile)
Almost no interest in harmony (5th percentile)
Strong curiosity (87th percentile)
Low connection to family and setting up a home (closeness: 9%)
Very little respect, commitment, and acceptance of the customs and ideas that culture and/or religion provides.

I think the following needs assessments are way off the mark. Perhaps I protest too much?

Very little interest in just having fun for its own sake (excitement: 7th percentile).
Low desire for perfection or a sense of community The truth is complicated: I have spent decades building professional and musical communities, yet I am isolated in many ways
Low interest in discovering and asserting their own identities (self-expression: 9%) This seems way off the mark, for example consider the motivation for my spending thousands of hours on EmpathyWorks.

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